Shanghai is quintessentially east that feels very west. In a place that’s overflowing with people and luxury, it’s hard to imagine standing out in this big metropolis straddling the Huangpu River. From kitschy to modern, to a look at its colonial British past, we look at this city with a new set of eyes and discover what it has to offer.
The city is hard to navigate at times, especially if you can’t get a decent mobile phone signal and can’t get Google Maps to load. The free walking maps are written in the Chinese language, but, in the spirit of helping visitors, also written down in Pinyin (a conversion of traditional Chinese symbols into easier to understand words). However, navigating around the city is easy with an integrated system of subways and buses.
An urban park located in the middle of the city, People’s Square can be a great spot to people watch or just see nature in the middle of the metropolis. It can get a bit crowded, but not to a point where you’re walking shoulder to shoulder with others. In the morning, you’ll see people doing Tai Chi, and on the weekends, the popular marriage market. The marriage market is an interesting concept where the parents gather in the park at various times during the day to put up advertisements for their children in the hope of finding a match. The market exists out of a sense of tradition, where parents wish to marry their children to partners that they consider to be suitable for their family. Despite a declining success rate thanks in part to the fact that there are millions more men than women in China, this practice persists among traditional parents.
At one end of People’s Square is the start of Nanjing Road, a 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) pedestrian only street, filled with stores and shopping centers. There are two main shopping centers, appropriately named Nanjing East and Nanjing West. The Nanjing West is the place for luxury shoppers, while Nanjing East isn’t as flashy, but you can find good deals in either center. It’s so long, it’s considered to be one of the longest shopping districts in the world. Best time to visit is in the evening when the billboards are lit up and where you’ll potentially encounter flash mobs, street performers, protests, and, well, pretty much anything can happen on this road.
The great thing about Nanjing Road is the nice variety of street food, which is cheap and delicious. One of the most interesting foods there is the fried dumpling (similar to a potsticker), which is a fried dough filled with pork and vegetables, and served with soy sauce. It’s a quick, filling meal which will give you an extra boost in your search for great deals.
At the other end of Nanjing Road is the historic district called The Bund. This district, fondly called Old Shanghai, dates back to the early 20th century when French-colonial style buildings dotted the riverfront, and where most financial companies had originally set up headquarters in the East. It makes for a great stroll in the evening, when the building facades are lit up from the Bund and Pudong, the new financial district. There is a daily light show in the Pudong side starting at 7:30PM where the buildings would change light colors at certain intervals. It ends at 10:30PM, so be sure to be at the waterfront in the Bund before then.
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Oriental Pearl Tower
Across the Huangpu River, where the lights are coming from, is the Bund. The building that stands out the most is the Oriental Pearl Tower. What once used to be China’s tallest structure is still an imposing, beautifully lit 3-sphere tower and a scenic symbol of Shanghai’s powerful new town. The unique parts of the tower include a rotating sky-line restaurant inside the 2nd sphere, a shopping mall at the bottom of the sphere, a glass elevator, and numerous observation points where you can have a great view of Shanghai. Be sure to see it before 10PM, as the lights turn off around that time.
Lights and history in Shanghai
Shanghai may look from the outside like a global metropolitan city, but it has thousands of years of rich history, visible in the numerous temples and historical landmarks that lie alongside the skyscrapers. When you walk on Nanjing Road, you may be looking at items to purchase, but what makes the experience fascinating is that you are walking on soil that is over 1,000 years old. Looking up at Shanghai’s towering structures at night is a wonderful experience, an almost synchronized show of light and power, designed to showcase Chinese strength in the world, and Shanghai has much to offer, but all the lights cannot hide the old, charming, and true face of this great city.
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